(Smoking) Death and Taxes
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because we haven’t seen that many of those old Truth ads lately, and maybe we all need a cash register reminder not to fall for the addiction.
By Sanjena Sathian
With e-cigs becoming the newest accessory and nicotine patches putting smokers’ addiction under wraps, it’s easy to get distracted from one cold, hard fact: Cigarettes kill. Surgeon general, smurgeon general — what are we doing about this lethal drug?
Estimated number of people who will die from smoking-related diseases by century’s end, according to a 2013 study in the latest New England Journal of Medicine.
Don’t be fooled by cigs’ conspicuous absence on sitcoms (who can even remember Chandler’s habit on Friends anymore?). Just because we censor them from screens doesn’t mean everyone has quit — or even come close. Globally, 50 percent of young men still light up, and nearly half the world’s children are inhaling secondhand smoke. And the number of smoking deaths is actually predicted to double (from 5 million to 10) in just a few decades.
How could that be? Well, the generation that embraced smoking is getting older — but hasn’t quite moved on yet. And the majority of smokers live where the majority of people on Earth live: in China (where smoking could be the cause of one third of all men’s deaths by 2030) and in India (where women are actually the top cig-buyers). Close behind are the EU, Indonesia, the U.S., Russia, Japan, Brazil, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
But there’s a solution: Apply classic behavioral economic incentives to fix the problem. In other words, tax the smokers. Tax them hard.
If we have the same endgoal as the WHO — slashing smoking 25 percent by 2025 — the answer may be to jack up prices: higher and higher and higher. And experts tell us we can’t just slap a couple of extra cents on the carton. If we’re willing to triple the cost of cigarettes, usage will plummet, the study says. Old research tells us that adding a tax of about 50 to 60 percent of the cigs’ price in the EU (less in countries where average income is lower) reduces usage by as much as 20 percent. And while you’d think the idea should have been put in place long ago, it turns out that most countries are not relying on excise taxes the way they could.
Head’s up to policymakers: This approach could work, has worked and could generate a $100 billion slush fund.
Not convinced yet? It’s already worked in France and South Africa, where they drastically increased the cost of cigarettes and, over 15 years, cut how many were consumed each year by half . More stunning: Today the number of former smokers in France is greater than the number of current smokers. Au revoir au tabac!